Common sense tells you there’s no such thing as magic, but there are times in life that we are willing to suspend our disbelief — a good show at The Magic Castle in Hollywood, or the pursuit of something historical in nature.
Consider what happened to end the seventh inning during Rich Hill’s bid for a perfect game at Marlins Park on Saturday. Yasiel Puig, derided for years over a perceived lack of hustle, made this supernatural catch of a Martin Prado drive. Hill threw his arms up in the air. The Dodgers bench erupted with joy, congratulated Puig and the team returned to the dugout. Because it was good fortune. Enchanted, perhaps.
They didn’t congratulate Hill, by the way, because baseball players are superstitious by nature. Who wants to jinx a perfect game? To do so, perhaps that would be the baseball equivalent of black magic.
Magic, humanity’s feeble attempt to comprehend moments in the joy we witness.
But as we’ve come to expect from the micromanagers running the Dodgers — who ironically enough are owned by a guy named Magic — there shall be no joy in Chavez Ravine. There shall only be strict adherence to the mathematical equation.
Manager Dave Roberts pulled Hill aside and told him his quest to pitch Major League Baseball’s 24th perfect game was over. Hill had some redness and heat on his finger, a blister could possibly form. Thanks for helping the team. Hit the showers. Make it a cold shower, while you’re at it.
I was at Marlins Park last night, Tweeting and posting live updates of this incredible effort from five rows behind the dugout. When the bottom of the eighth inning was about to start, I was looking up the history of Dodgers no-hitters and perfect games. They had two no-hitters in 2014. It was 51 years, one day from the only perfect game in Dodgers history, pitched by Sandy Koufax and documented by a man far classier than I.
What I couldn’t see in the dugout was how angry Hill was, as well he should. I realize it’s no consolation, but that anger was magnified by my fellow Dodgers fans that I could see.
What happened at Marlins Park last night was the latest in an ever-increasing list of Dodgers decisions that illustrate the shortcomings of analytics-exclusive front office decisions. To recap, analytics in sports — as popularized in the excellent Michael Lewis book “Moneyball” — is a tool to help teams without wealth and resources to stay competitive.
Only the Dodgers do have wealth and resources.
So the front office personnel consult the numbers and sign/trade for the affordable injury-prone: such as Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Wood, Bud Norris, Scott Kazmir, Mike Bolsinger, Brandon Beachy … are you starting to get the point? The otherwise durable Zack Greinke was let go in the process. No worry. We were told. We’ll make adjustments on defense for something called “run prevention.”
Pulling Hill from a historic quest was simply “asset protection,” for he, too, has a history of injuries. Wouldn’t want to risk another guy getting injured six outs away from a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.
Had the Dodgers chosen to retain Greinke instead of acquire a stable of injury-prone pitchers, Hill would likely be a No. 3 starter, at best. As such, Roberts likely believed him to be the only reliable pitcher not named Clayton Kershaw.
This is how important baseball history actually is: Curt Schilling became a national hero for pitching a game where he eventually started to bleed through his sock. Hill? Maybe he has a blister. Maybe, but doggone it, can’t be too careful.
Of course, the front office wouldn’t have to worry about asset protection if it studied injury reports with the same vigor it does spreadsheets.
You almost have to wonder what prior Dodgers managers would have decided. Actually, you don’t. Tommy Lasorda would have kept him in. Every Dodgers manager prior would have likely done the same. Don Mattingly, who leads the Marlins after the Dodgers cut him loose last year, I haven’t seen his comments. He probably didn’t make one.
As such, it was not Rich Hill who made history, it was Roberts and the Dodgers front office. The Elias Sports Bureau reported that no pitcher had been removed in the quest for a perfect game that late in the game, at least not since 1900.
After the game, Roberts told reporters that the decision actually made a 5-0 Dodgers victory feel like a loss.
That is ironic, because that is precisely what I was saying outside of Marlins Park while I cursed the Dodgers front office in the mist.